Black Bottle, at First & Vine in Belltown, opened at 4 PM yesterday without so much as the click of a press-agent's keyboard. Loveliest afternoon of the year, plenty of folks out strolling in shorts and sandals, leashed to dainty doggies. By 7 PM the place was packed.
Black Bottle replaces the unlamented and unfortunately named Two Dagos, Belltown's skankiest and most reviled watering hole. Its reincarnation was shepherded by well-traveled Denver native Chris Linker, who envisioned a convivial, neighborhood place based on Britain's gastro-pubs and Japan's izakayas: informal, full-flavored food to accompany great drinks.
The mandarin cosmopolitan ($7) is served with its own shaker, a welcome touch. The wine list offers two dozen selections under $25, six or seven of them by-the-glass.
In the kitchen, chef Brian Durbin, a veteran of Carribean resort kitchens and Denver's Carmine's on Penn, was training an international crew (Morocco, Sicily, Seattle). His menu is deceptively simple: a dozen or so dishes at $8 a pop, from cumin pork tenderloin on a bed of frisee to a braised artichoke with beet chips to seven-spice shrimp. At first, he was going to serve the shrimp with the heads attached; in the end, they're piled in the center of the plate, take-em-or-leave-em. (I took em; talk about full-flavored!)
Best for last: a chocolate cake filled with vanilla gelato ($7). Yummy beyond words.
Despite first-night jitters, Black Bottle managed to serve some 200 guests. "We were taken by surprise," says the restaurant's designer, Judy Boardman. Not to worry, not to worry. You've got a winner.